We must not remain indifferent while our politicians undermine the universality of human rights, especially when there are no competing human rights or Australian national interests to be used as excuses.

On 18 Nov 07, the Greek Pan-Makedoniki Association held a “Macedonia is Greek” rally in Melbourne, to pressure Labor and the Coalition into continuing to foster Greece’s repression of indigenous Macedonians. The rally attracted around 13,000 participants, which amounts to around 8% of the 150,000 Greeks living in Melbourne. The turnout was consistent with the Macedonian Australian community’s position that most Greek Australians are not strongly committed to importing into Australia the Greek state’s racially repressive policies. But regardless of the Greek votes that may be won or lost, if Labor and the Coalition are truly committed to multiculturalism and to encouraging freedom, democracy and respect for human rights worldwide, they would not be making glaring exceptions only to appease Greece and its lobby in Australia.

Ever since it seized Southern Macedonia in the Balkan Wars of 1912/13, Greece has denied the right of indigenous Macedonians to maintain their language and ethnic identity. Greece implements a policy of forcefully assimilating or ‘cleansing’ ethnic minorities in order to create an ethnically homogenous nation. The policy is based on a 19th century nationalist doctrine that envisaged a Greater Greece, encompassing territories and people that were never previously part of Greece.

In modern Greece, Macedonians who identify as Macedonian, or speak Macedonian in public, face severe discrimination, intimidation, prosecution, and even physical violence, by the state and by an aggressively nationalist society. Macedonians are denied the freedom to study their own language, maintain and promulgate their culture, or to establish their own associations and religious parishes. Macedonians who have spoken out against this persecution have been exiled, harassed, and have had their properties confiscated.

In a report entitled "Denying Ethnic Identity: The Macedonians of Greece", Human Rights Watch-Helsinki found:

The Greek Government denies that a Macedonian minority exists in Greece. It refers to ethnic Macedonians as "Slavophones" or "Slav-Speakers". The official Greek position is that the Greek state is ethnically homogenous, the only exception being the Muslim minority in western Thrace—which is in reality a Turkish minority…

The Greek Government's denial of the existence of the Macedonian minority violates international human rights agreements to which the Greek Government is a party. [Under international law], minority identity is a matter to be determined by the individual, and not by the state.

In June 2004 the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance noted that persons [in Greece] wishing to express their Macedonian, Turkish or other identity incur the hostility of the population.

According to Greek author, Hercules Millas:

The basic belief which is impressed upon nine to twelve-year-old (Greek) pupils is that they belong to a superior nation. Such notions as equality among nations and peoples, or that civilization can derive from the interaction of different cultures, are not to be found in these (Greek) textbooks. (H. Milas, “History Textbooks in Greece and Turkey”, History Workshop Journal, 1991,p. 24).

What is more important to Greek nationalists than respect for human rights is an obsessive desire to prove that “the real Macedonians” have been of Greek nationality or ethnicity ever since antiquity. The fact that ancient authors, including Polybius, Arrian, Plutarch, Pausanias, clearly identified the Macedonians as a separate, non-Greek people, does nothing to moderate their fanatical belief in this new nationalist myth. Yet as recently as the 19th century the official view of Greek history was that “the population of the Greek peninsula had been struggling for independence from foreign domination ever since the ancient Greeks had been conquered by the Macedonian armies in 338 BC” (A. Triandafyllidou, “National Identity and the Other”, Ethnic and Racial Studies, Vol. 21, No. 4, July 1998, p. 605).

Greek American scholar Anastasia Karakasidou wrote that to refer to nineteenth-century inhabitants of South-Western Macedonia as “Greeks” is to adopt national categories that were subsequently imposed on them (A. Karakasidou, Fields of Wheat, Hills of Blood: Passages to Nationhood in Greek Macedonia, 1997). Her intellectual honesty was met with such overwhelming nationalist hysteria that Cambridge University Press, fearing for the safety of its staff in Greece, refused to publish her book.

Greece’s efforts to suppress the distinct Macedonian identity extend to Macedonians all over the world, including Australia. Since 1991, Greece has campaigned to block international recognition of its neighbour, the Republic of Macedonia, under its historic name, which has been determined by its sovereign citizens. To appease the Greek Government and its international lobby, Australia has refused to recognise the independent Republic of Macedonia under its proper name, choosing instead to refer to it by the bizarre name ‘Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia’. This is despite the fact that the majority of members of the United Nations (over 120 countries), including the USA, Canada, Russia and China, have now recognised the Republic of Macedonia under its constitutional name.

The Australian Government’s failure to respect the right of Macedonians to self-identification affects over 84,000 Australians of Macedonian origin. When Macedonian Australians declare that they originate from Macedonia, Australian government departments register their country of origin as ‘Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia’. We know of no other state or community whose national or ethnic identity has been denied or altered by our Government.

For decades our Government has failed to support Macedonian Australians who have been denied entry or re-entry into their ancestral homeland and have had their properties confiscated by the Greek state - without any valid reason. By failing to condemn this behaviour by the Greek state, the Australian Government is a silent accomplice to ethnic cleansing.

Greece’s attempts to suppress the Macedonian ethnic identity contravene European and international human rights standards. A multicultural society like Australia should be discouraging such ethnocentric human rights violations, rather than reinforcing them with its own policy of denying Macedonians the right to self-identification.

We must not remain indifferent while our politicians undermine the universality of human rights, especially when there are no competing human rights or Australian national interests to be used as excuses. The only competing interests are those of politicians seeking favour with a fanatical special interest group, by legitimizing racially repressive policies that are more severe than our abandoned ‘White Australia’ policy.

Published by the Association of Macedonian Communities in Australia, with support from the Macedonian Australian Council of Sydney, Macedonian Orthodox Community of Sydney, Macedonian Orthodox Community of Newcastle, Macedonian Orthodox Community of Melbourne and Victoria, Macedonian Community of Adelaide and South Australia, Macedonian Orthodox Community of Wollongong, Australian Macedonian Ortodox Church “Uspenie na Presveta Bogorodica (Sydenham, Victoria), Australian Macedonian Weekly, United Macedonian Diaspora, Alexander’s Descendants Inc, Bitola Social Club, MKSD Skopje, Australian Macedonian Weekly, ...

Authorised by Igor Aleksandrov, 79 Cabramatta Rd., Cabramatta NSW 2166